It’s Here: College Move-In Day

It’s here. The day you have anticipated, dreamed about, and maybe even dreaded for 18 years has arrived. While college move-in day is a proud moment for any parent, that does not mean it isn’t a day filled with stress and more than a little sadness.

We have written about why we will miss our kids, how to manage dorm shopping and how to be successful in college, here we are going to look at the logistics of getting our kids out of our homes and into their new apartment or dorm.

How to get ready for college move-in day
Saying goodbye at the freshman dorm on drop-off day is a moment you will both remember.

Our very best tips as you plan for college move-in day:

1. How are you getting to campus?

  • Are you close enough to drive to your teen’s new college? Can you fit everything into your car, or will you want to ship some of the bedding or bulkier items? Are there items that can bring back after fall break (winter clothes) that don’t need to be moved now?
  • Do you plan to fly, and have you looked into how expensive it is for each checked bag?
  • If you still have dorm shopping, look closely at what stores like Pottery Barn Teen, Target, or The Container Store will do to ship for free.  On move-in day, you will have an even better idea of what is needed for your teen’s room, and you can go to the local store where your items will be set aside for you. No hauling. No paying for shipping (the service is free.) No buying and returning. No going to the store only to find out they have run out of what you need.

2. Do some early reconnaissance

  • Find out where your student picks up her swipe card/key/ID card. Don’t unload her all belongings on the sidewalk only to discover that you cannot get into the building and key pick-up is across campus. This is the voice of experience speaking…
  • Will there be student helpers with move-in? At many schools, older students are waiting to lend a hand.
  • Is there an elevator in the building, or will you walk up flights of stairs?
  • Where is the closest parking, and is there a time limit on how long you can keep your car there?
  • Check the college website to see if there is any parent programming on move-in weekend and when it begins.
  • Check online what the rental costs are at the university for items like mini refrigerators and microwaves if you are deciding between buying and renting.
  • Would a small pushcart help this move-in (and move-out)? Your freshman will move more frequently during the next four years than you can imagine, and this is unlikely to be the last one she needs your help with.
  • Make sure you and your teen have read the list of forbidden dorm items and what can and cannot be hung on dorm room walls.
  • Don’t take all of the luggage home. Teens will be returning at fall break or Thanksgiving. Leave a small bag for travel.

3. College move-in day will be a long day, take care of yourself

  • Move-in day in many parts of the country can be sweltering, so come prepared with some cold drinks and snacks.
  • The parents who show up with coffees, bagels, or doughnuts cannot help but win over a few fans.
  • Wear clothing that is both comfortable and can get dirty. Forget the cute white jeans! Dorms can be filthy even on move-in day.
  • Family weekend is a better time to bring the extended family. Dorm rooms are small, hot, and strewn with packing debris. There is no place for family members to sit, and your child barely knows their school. By October, they will have far more to show and tell grandparents and siblings.
  • Bring a doorstop — it will make move-in much easier, and your kid will use it as a way to keep the door open to meet their hallmates in the first weeks of school.


4. Packing should be the reverse of unpacking

When you get to campus, your teen’s dorm will be crowded. Their hall will be filled with empty cardboard boxes, and their room will be covered with their roommate’s belongings. The more you organize your packing ahead of time, the easier it will be to unpack upon arrival.

  • Pack hanging items on their hangers in tall garbage bags (as shown below). That way, putting them in the closet is as simple as tearing away the bags. No wrinkles, no packing hangers, and no suitcases required.
  • Pack bedding all in one place so that it can easily be accessed all at once. It is best to wash it before you leave home.
  • Get rid of as much packing material as possible at home. The dorm will be piled high with cardboard boxes, plastic wrapping, and trashcans overflowing.
  • Pack the under-bed storage containers with the items your student will keep in them during the year. Bulky sweaters and extra sheets and towels are often good items. Use one storage drawer as a “medicine cabinet” with extra toiletries and over-the-counter remedies. Tape the drawers shut before you leave for move-in.
clothes in plastic bags
How to move hang-up clothes into the dorm.


5. Getting the room ready

  • Make your child’s bed. It is a timeworn parental prerogative and completes the circle from when you first made their crib.
  • Tell them why it makes sense to put underwear in the top drawer and sweaters in the bottom, but then step back and repeat to yourself, “This is not my room. I am not going to live here. This is not my room. I am not going to live here,” as many times as necessary.
  • Clorox wipes are not a bad idea. On many campuses, dorm rooms are used over the summer and may not have been well cleaned. Leave the wipes behind for your teen as they may be the only type of cleaner your teen will use during the year.
  • Take away anything they don’t think they will use. Bring heavy winter things to the family weekend that usually takes place in the fall, or let them return with them after fall break.


6. Bidding farewell

  • Slip a letter or short note with words of love and good luck into something you will not unpack.
  • Have a hard stop, the hour you will walk away and leave them to begin their new life. Like taking off a Band-Aid, saying goodbye may need to be done quickly.
  • Think about college move-in the day before it happens, it will take you by surprise. All the tears you may have shed in the previous weeks won’t save you from today. Know in advance how you want to say goodbye.
  • Plan for your final alone time before you reach campus, even if it is a quick family meal at a roadside diner or breakfast at the hotel. Once your child finds their room, meets their roommate, and is introduced to their RA and classmates in their hall…their new life has begun.
  • Try to remember, through the quivering lip and the lump in your throat, that this is one of our finest parenting moments, even if it doesn’t feel that way.


You Might Also Want to Read:

10 College Packing Tips for Your Freshman

12 Things That Will Save Your Life on College Move-In Day

About Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author.
She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Lisa

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